Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Watching the Olympics - In Israel: Good Luck!

While much of the world is caught up in the spirit of the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Israelis remain largely oblivious to fact that these games are even taking place.  After all, Israel has more than its share of crucial agenda items to occupy the news.  Who will be Israel's next President after President Shimon Peres concludes his term in June 2014?  Will the government actually vote to force Haredim (Ultra-Religious Jews) to report for conscription, with criminal sanctions for failure to report?  What will happen with John Kerry's peace plan?  Will the Syrian conflict broaden?  And of course, will the price of cottage cheese go up in Israel?

Nevertheless, for expatriate Canadians (and other Canadians who spend a lot of time in Israel...), as with most Canadians in Canada, there is only one real sport that matters - ice hockey.  And these Olymics feature the best players in the world in a short tournament to decide which country will have ice hockey bragging rights for the next four years.  There is already some talk that the professional NHL players may not be back to the Olympics in 2018.  So this is a really rare event for ice hockey afficianados.

But for Israelis, ice hockey is nowhere to be found on the radar screen.  Soccer and basketball are the main sports.  Little else matters in the world of athletic competition.  This country will probably come to a standstill during the World Cup of Soccer (Football) in Brazil later this year, just as Canada will come to a standstill this coming Sunday (February 23, 2014) if Canada makes it to the gold medal game. But Olympic coverage in Israel is attracting very little interest.

So how can Canadians (and Americans, Europeans and other winter sports enthusiasts) watch Olympic coverage?  How can we watch this great high-level ice hockey?  Well, it is doable, but with some difficulty.

One cable channel, channel 20 (sport 5?) has been showing some Olympic coverage.  It touts itself as "Israel's Olympic Network."  However, this coverage shows a very small number of live events and includes the same Hebrew language commentators for every sport.  You can hear the same lines over and over again whether you are watching Curling, Ice Hockey, Ski Jumping or any other sport. (or probably MasterChef as well).   "She is not giving up,"  "these athletes are working really hard,"  "what a beautiful move."  "These athletes are in really great shape."

More troubling than the woefully inadequate commentary is the programming schedule.  The "Olympic channel" has been showing the two Israeli figure skaters over and over and over again, several times a day, instead of showing other live sports that are taking place.  While it is nice to encourage patriotism, surely the "Olymic Network" can cover some of the most exciting events live, even if no Israeli athletes are competing.  They can always show the figure skaters in the evening or early morning if they must keep showing their routine over and over again.

Last week, the network showed a live ice hockey match, in full, between Latvia and Slovakia, hardly two of the leading powerhouses.  But that was only the preliminary round.  This week, it showed only the third periods of two diffferent elimination matches. (i.e. two much more important games).  Today, there are four quarter final games taking place.  The Israeli Olympic Network is not showing any of them!  Not even partial coverage - a third period or even a first period.  So if it is hockey you are after, you need another option.

A second option is to try and stream Canadian coverage.   CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) has great winter Olympic coverage and superb ice hockey coverage.  CBC has been streaming live TV thoughout the olympics. It seems to be showing almost every Olympic event live, concurrently, but these streams only work in Canada.   So in order to watch CBC, you need  to set up a VPN (a virtual private network).  This VPN simulates a Canadian location.  It costs about $40 for the year the set up is easy.  So far so good, in theory. But the internet speed (and stability) has been too slow to watch CBC without huge lag time and broken pictures.

A third option is to watch European coverage streamed though a site like  That is the option I have been left with.  So I have had a chance to watch some of the Finland-Russia Quarter Final match with German commentary.   The picture has been reasonably reliable.  I am hoping for some better options for tonight's game between Canada and Latvia.  Maybe the Israeli channel will even show the final game live on Sunday (or part of it). 

Over the course of this year's Olympics, I have managed to see the Israeli speed skater (more than a few times).  He started strong and then fell into last place.  I guess "pacing" wasn't part of the coaching manual.  I have also seen the Israeli figure skating couple several times (my son can now point out the exact spot where she falls...).  There is some talk of efforts to send an Israeli curling team to the next Olympics or perhaps a bobsledding team.  But it will be a long time (if ever) before Israelis have any serious interest in these winter games. 

So for now, those interested in watching the most exciting ice hockey in the world are left with trying to find the best available method of watching streamed coverage over the internet.  At least these options exist.

I guess I can understand how Australians feel when they are far away from Aussie rules football or how cricket fans might feel when they are in a country that does not pay attention to cricket.  And yet of course, this is after all, only sports, next to some very serious existential issues that people grapple with here in Israel.  Even so, I am sure there are many sports fans in Israel from Canada, the U.S. and other places, who really want to watch these hockey games and I am glad that there are some reasonable alternatives for doing so.

Go Canada Go - here's hoping for the Gold Medal!